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In this Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 file photo, a pedestrian walks her bicycle past a silhouette of Jesus Christ projected against the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis King of France in New Orleans. "I find it fascinating that that's what people really want to know _ what race was Jesus. That's says a lot about us, about Americans today," says Edward Blum, co-author of "The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America." (AP Photo/David Goldman)

THE RACE OF JESUS: UNKNOWN, YET POWERFUL
 
For two thousand years, he has been worshipped and adored. Multitudes look to him each day. And yet nobody really knows the face of Jesus.
 
That has not stopped humanity's imagination, or its yearning to draw Jesus as close as possible. So when this Christmas season brought a torrent of debate over whether Jesus was a white man, it struck a sacred nerve.
 
"That statement carries a whole lot of baggage," said Rockwell Dillaman, pastor of the Allegheny Center Alliance Church in Pittsburgh. "Political baggage, spiritual baggage, emotional baggage. Especially in a culture like ours where the relations of white people to other ethnicities has often been marked by injustice and distrust."
 
Why should we even care what Jesus looked like? If his message is God and love, isn't his race irrelevant? Some say God wanted it that way, since there are no references to Jesus' earthly appearance in the Bible.
 
But the debate was a reminder of just how difficult it is for anyone to transcend race - even a historical figure widely considered to be beyond human.
 
"I find it fascinating that that's what people really want to know - what race was Jesus. That says a lot about us, about Americans today," said Edward Blum, co-author of "The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America."
 
"Jesus said lots of things about himself - I am divine, I am the son of man, I am the light of the world," Blum said. "What race is light? How do you racially categorize that?"
 
Jesus can be safely categorized as a Jew, born about 2,000 years ago in the Middle East in what is now Palestinian territory. Therefore, many scholars believe that Jesus must have looked "Arab," with brownish skin.
 
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HEALTH LAW NOT FIRST NEW PROGRAM WITH LAUNCH WOES
 
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Although multiple problems have snarled the rollout of President Barack Obama's signature health care law, it's hardly the first time a new, sprawling government program has been beset by early technical glitches, political hostility and gloom-and-doom denouncements.
 
President Franklin D. Roosevelt faced heavy skepticism with his launch of Social Security in 1935-37. Turbulence also rocked subsequent key presidential initiatives, including Lyndon Johnson's rollout of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, Richard Nixon's Supplemental Security Income program in 1974 and George W. Bush's Medicare prescription drugs program in 2006.
 
Yet these programs today are enormously popular with recipients.
 
Obama and allies hope history will repeat itself on the health insurance overhaul. "Every day I check to make sure that it's working better," Obama said playfully the other day.
 
With more and more Americans successfully signing up for the program, some Republicans have dialed back their harshest criticism. Still, the overall negative political fallout could damage Democratic chances in the 2014 midterm elections and possibly beyond.
 
Any new major federal program is a likely target for early criticism. But the heaviest assaults seem to fall on social benefit programs like Social Security and its health care cousins Medicare and Medicaid. These "entitlement" programs are easy lightning rods because they affect so many Americans, directly or indirectly.
 
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POPE ON CHRISTMAS EVE LAUDS JESUS' 'HUMBLE' START
 
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis lauded Jesus' humble beginning as a poor and vulnerable baby as he celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass as pontiff Tuesday in St. Peter's Basilica.
 
`'You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich, and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable," Francis said of Jesus as he delivered his homily in the basilica, packed with faithful.
 
Francis has dedicated much of his nine-month-old papacy to drawing attention to the plight of the poor, of children, and other vulnerable members of society.
 
He noted that the first to receive news of Jesus' birth were shepherds, who in society were considered `'among the last, the outcast."
 
Francis, who turned 77 a week ago, walked briskly up the main aisle of the basilica for the ceremony, which began Tuesday 2 1/2 hours before midnight. Keeping with the theme of humility he has set for his new papacy, Francis carried the statue instead of an aide, and kissed a knee of the figure of the newly born Jesus.
 
The occasional wail of babies in the basilica contrasted at times with the sweet voices of the choir.
 
The Argentine-born pope has also encouraged his flock to be a joyful church, and he called Jesus' `'the light who brightens the darkness."
 
In the world's history and our own personal history, Francis said, `'there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. `' He added `'if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us."

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